Ben and Shalene…For The Love Of Dance And Each Other

Ben and Shalene…For The Love Of Dance And Each Other

One of the busiest couples at the Ohio Star Ball was Ben Ermis and Shalene Archer. Shalene's 275 entries helped earn her a second place Top Teacher Award, and Ben's 210 garnered him a third place. For the second year in a row they were designated Top Studio. As if those weren't enough laurels for this energetic couple that compete in both American Smooth and International Standard, they also placed second in the Professional American Smooth Division.

Ben and Shalene are always positive, always happy to be competing both with students and each other. Teachers, competitors, studio owners... they finally took time from their busy schedules to get married last July.

How did you start dancing?

Ben: It was a sheer accident. Fifteen years ago I was working in the jewelry business in Austin, Texas. Our jewelry shop moved to a new shopping center, and the Fred Astaire Dance Studio was also there. I got to know the folks that owned the studio and did some jewelry work for them. When I left the jewelry business, the owners of the Fred Astaire studio contacted me and asked me if I would come and participate in a training class that was starting for new teachers. They evidently saw something in me that led them to believe that I would be good working with students.

Had you danced before that?

Ben: I never danced. My mom taught me the box step, and a little bit of polka. That was it.

When did you know that being a dance teacher was what you wanted to do?

Ben: The second day of training class.

Why not the first day?

Ben: I was scared to death! It took me twenty-four hours. I was literally scared to death the first day.

How did you get to Nashville?

Ben: I was in Texas for a year and a half. From there I moved to Birmingham, Alabama. I had made a deal to spend a year and a half at that studio, and then Fred Astaire would set me up in my own franchise. Nashville just happened to be the spot that was available when I was ready.

When did you stop being part of the Fred Astaire chain?

Ben: October 1994. We wanted to pursue some training that was not going to be easily available to us within the chain.

How did you get started Shalene?

Shalene: I was a gymnast when I was younger. After that it was cheerleading, and every other sport I could get my hands on, but I always wanted to dance. I forced my brothers to take lessons with me. I took some swing classes with my older brother first, and thought that was fun. Then two or three years later, after my younger brother got old enough, I coerced him into going to a studio in Oklahoma City to take a few lessons. Then I decided to go to school at Vanderbilt. I knew that I wanted to pursue my dancing, but wouldn’t have the funds available to do so. I asked the managers of the studio who I should call in Nashville, and they told me to contact the Fred Astaire studio. So I called and said that I was interested in training to be a teacher. Ben talked to me and he just about hired me over the phone.

Ben: It was October or November of 1991, when she actually came to the studio and started working part time. I remember getting off the phone and running down the hall to my lesson and as I went by the office of the manager that worked for me, I said, “There’s a girl that’s coming in for an interview tomorrow... we’re going to hire her.” I didn’t know what she looked like. I just knew how energetic she sounded, and I knew she would someday be a great teacher.

Shalene: I was so excited, I went in and they started training me right me away. I went through school at Vanderbilt, but I finally realized that what I was doing at the studio part time was really what I wanted to be doing. That’s when I made the decision to do it as my career full time.

Ben: While Shalene was in school, working part time at the studio, there wasn’t always someone free in the evenings to take her back to the campus where she was staying. So she ended up spending all the money she made at the studio on cab fare, to get to and from the studio. She didn’t make a dime.

Shalene: That’s right. I didn’t make any money at all for the first year, but I loved it! I was having so much fun and I just couldn’t be there enough. I knew it was the right decision for me a couple years down the road, and I’ve never regretted it. I think you’re a very happy person when you love what you do, and we definitely are happy people.

What was your major?

Shalene: I was pre-med and Spanish.

Ben: Can you imagine how her parents felt when she told them she was going to skip the University of Vanderbilt to become a dance teacher?!

Shalene: My dad said, “I sent you to Vanderbilt to teach ballroom dancing?” And I said, “Yes, sir, you did!” But my parents always encouraged me to do what would make me happy. And I knew that the dancing would make me happy. I love teaching. I always knew that I loved teaching. I would come home from school and teach my brother everything I had learned. For the first three years of school he was bored to death because he already knew everything.

When did you start dancing together?

Ben: Our first big competition was the Heart of America in Kansas City in 1993. She had been in the studio for a year and a half. And this is a great story... the whole staff went out one night after work, and somebody asked me what I was looking for in a partner, and I said, “Well, I think, I’d like to look for somebody with equal experience first of all.” Then someone asked me how tall, and how big, and what other qualities I would like in a partner. And I said, “Well, I need somebody that’s 5’7” or 5’8. Shalene, stand up. I think somebody about her height.”

Shalene: He asked me how tall I was and I told him 5’7-1/2”. He said, “Yeh, that’s what I need about 5’7-1/2”.”

Ben: I said, “Somebody about her body dimensions, and somebody with her physical strength, that would be important to me also.”

Shalene: I was thinking, “I’m right here! I want to dance! I want to dance!” At that time, I’d been dancing with some of the other new teachers in the studio. We would play around and try to learn our syllabus, but I really hadn’t had a lot of training. I was only there part time at night, and the other teachers would be teaching. So I basically learned from the book. Everything that I knew and that I was teaching I had learned from the book. So I knew heels and toes, but there were a lot of other things that I was missing.

Ben: She knew she couldn’t bring her feet together yet!

Shalene: I knew all that I wanted to do! So then, he asked me to dance with him.

Was it that night?

Ben: No, it wasn’t that night. I don’t actually remember when it was. Maybe I started thinking about it at that point. The day we had our first official practice, we walked in the ballroom and I took her by the hand and kind of slung her across the floor, and when she almost fell down, I said, “Okay, we’re going to start with the standard.” That’s the truth.

Shalene: At that time I probably knew my full bronze syllabus, but nothing else. We worked on open standard, and we got out on the floor about six months later.

Ben: I think it was maybe from a selfish standpoint; I was dying to compete and be out on the floor. Whatever I thought I could prepare her for the fastest is what I wanted to start with.

Shalene: We always knew that we wanted to do smooth.

Ben: A lot of people said, “Here comes another standard couple trying to do smooth.”

Shalene: But we had always been a smooth couple doing standard. We wanted to get enough information about technique to do the smooth the way that we felt we could.

Ben: We always understood the value. The top smooth couples have extensive standard backgrounds. And we knew that’s what it would take.

Shalene: So we did the standard for three years before we finally said, “Okay, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to--a better understanding of our bodies, of movement and the basics of dancing. This is our chance and our time to do the smooth and to do it the way we hoped we could.”

Were you happy with your placing the first time out?

Ben: Texas Challenge was our first competition and we did make the open final. It was really, really exciting for us. We beat all the top rising star couples our first time out.

Shalene: We were thankful that we took the time those first three years

Ben: We wanted to be prepared before we started, instead of climbing over couples after we got out there on the floor.

How do you have so much energy?

Shalene: I think I’m just fortunate. I’m an extrovert, and I love being around people. I love teaching as much as I love my own dancing, and my students are so terrific, they really fuel me. I get excited about their being excited and it is just a wonderful cyclical thing.

Ben: What we said earlier is really the case... there are many of us who have various levels of passion for what we do, and I’d like to think that our passion is among the highest. Some people criticize us for not putting enough into our own professional dancing, for giving our students more than we take for ourselves. But teaching our students is an equal part of our business.

How many hours a day do you teach?

Ben: It depends. As competitions come closer, sometimes it’s more. I typically don’t do more that 7 or 8 a day. Shalene, on many occasions does 9 or 10 in a day.

And practices, too?

Shalene: Every opportunity we get!

Do you plan to practice a certain time each day?

Shalene: We set aside a slot every day from 12 to 3, where we try to pay attention to our own dancing, and to our own goals. But because we run a business also, there are a lot of things we have to tend to, whether it’s paperwork or phone calls or helping our teachers out, or whatever. That, unfortunately, kind of encroaches into our practice time. But we are moving our studio, and are going to be renting space from another facility. All of our staff is going to come with us, but we are not going to have so much of the logistical things, like the paperwork. So, we’re excited about the fact that our 12 to 3 hour slot is going to be exclusively ours now and we’re really looking forward to that. It’s going to be a good year for us.

When you first danced with Shalene, did you know you really wanted to dance with her?

Ben: I knew after a few days. I really believed she would be what she is today, or I wouldn’t have continued.

And did you want to dance with Ben, or did you just want to dance?

Shalene: I had danced in a couple of regional Fred Astaire events, in a novice category, and I absolutely loved it. Ben was the most advanced dancer in the studio and in our region and so I knew for sure that he was definitely the person I wanted to dance with. I knew he could take me the furthest, the quickest, and I was excited to get there.

You knew each other for almost ten years before you got married. Why did it take so long?

Shalene: Actually, we’d known for a long, long time.

Ben: For several years, but when do you find the time? We haven’t been on our honeymoon yet.

Shalene: It’s probably going to be our one-year anniversary before we finally take the time off from the school to go. But we knew. We were together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we loved it. And within a year after we were together, we were completely committed to one another. We knew we were going to get married, but I’m quite a bit younger than he is, and…

Ben: Hey, hey, hey!

Shalene: I always knew that I didn’t want to get married when I was 20 or 21. I wanted to wait until I was a little bit older, because people change a lot in their twenties. We had a beautiful, beautiful wedding this year. It was everything I ever dreamed it would be.

Ben: And she didn’t give up her teaching schedule to plan it. That was in July, and we had a big competition the next weekend, in Nashville.

Shalene: So we couldn’t take a honeymoon, but we will definitely take one soon. We plan to go on a Mediterranean cruise.

Was your wedding a big dance affair?

Shalene: It was quite a dance affair. We were married in a beautiful botanical garden, and then the reception and the dance was in the botanic hall.

Ben: There must have been 50 or 60 combined U.S. titles at our wedding reception.

Shalene: It was very exciting! And it was certainly well represented by the dance community. The staff was just amazed watching all these dancers twirl around the floor. It was beautiful.

Did you do a wedding dance?

Ben: Yes, it was a foxtrot, You Are My Love by Nat King Cole.

Did you have special choreography?

Ben: Actually, we went to Arthur Murray, and we had them work on it for us.

Shalene: NO! We just did a nice bronze foxtrot.

Ben: It was one of the most basic things we’ve ever done. It was what we do when we go out and social dance.

Shalene: We enjoy being close to each other. That’s really what it’s about.

Do you plan to have children?

Shalene: No. Actually, my children are my men. I’m just a big mother hen. I absolutely love my boys and they give me so much. I’m so proud, and I think all of my mothering instincts are fulfilled through my teaching. We really don’t have plans to have children. I would like to be an aunt. I would like nieces and nephews, to enjoy and then send them home.

You’re ranked second in the United States in the American Smooth division, and you’ve been second for quite a while now. How does that feel?

Ben: We don’t even think about the fact that we’ve been second for a while; we’re focused on the fact that we’re improving and getting better. We’re second to people that are great dancers, and they’re getting better and improving also. For the past couple years we’ve been in a position where at least we’ve been chasing a little more than we’re being chased. That’s been a comfortable spot for us. There are a lot of good couples coming up behind us now. Making big, big improvements, so we’ve got to get in gear.

Do you feel that you put yourself mentally in second place, and it’s going to be hard to get out of it?

Ben: Oh, no, no. In fact, the last three or four competitions, things have been quite a bit closer and we see that we’re gaining ground. That’s inspirational.

Shalene: Feedback from the judges, our peers, and people that we really respect, has been so positive that we feel that we’re doing anything but stagnating. We’re very excited about the fact that the marks are reflecting that we’re getting very close.

Ben: We’re working with people that we really believe in and we trust the path that we’re on. That’s what’s important. We’re not meandering. If it’s not what the judges care for, we can’t control that. We’re moving towards our goal. We’re ready for a lot of new things to happen.

Shalene: There is a place in our minds that we want our dancing to go. And we know that we’re nowhere near that right now. So we’re going to continue dancing until we reach that point.

Do you always agree on what you’re working towards? Your goals, your feelings of what you want your dancing to be?

Ben: Definitely. Definitely.

Shalene: I don’t think that’s ever been a problem in our entire dancing history.

Ben: I’m very persuasive, that’s why!

Shalene: Maybe that is the case! But not only do we have the same goals with our dancing, but with our lives, and everything else. When you’re in that much agreement on where you’re trying to go, I think that synergy is very possible. It’s nice all the way around.

Do you think there’s a different kind of reward for women, than for men, or do you feel like it’s the same kind of enjoyment or reward that you’re getting?

Shalene: As far as the dancing goes, I think it’s pretty similar. The best part about competing is the fact that we’re out on the floor dancing together. We’re very fortunate to be in a relationship that’s so special and to also be able to dance together. When we’re out there, it’s just us. We go out and we dance for those reasons, and so I think we’re both getting the same enjoyment and fulfillment out of our dancing. As far as teaching goes, it’s a little bit more individual, but I know we both enjoy it equally.

Ben: We both have our different goals with our students. And we’re also pretty competitive with each other.

Shalene: When it comes to our students, definitely.

Ben: Obviously, we have some great in-house competition, because I think Shalene has, as a group of men, the strongest group of male pro/am dancers in the U.S. And I’ve got some good women myself, so...

Shalene: Anytime a scholarship comes around, and the guys are competing against the girls, I say, “Alright, just poke ‘em in the eye.” It’s harder for a male student to win so it’s really, really exciting when that happens.

Ben: We do have a lot of friendly competition within our school. She’s the one female teacher who’s got men that can beat my female students.

Does that bother you?

Ben: Oh God, no. It doesn’t bother me. It’s great. It pushes her, it pushes me, it pushes all of us.

Shalene: It makes all of our students better. They love it. We have a real family environment with our students. We’re so fortunate that we have such a terrific group of students and teachers. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world to go to work every day and love all the people that you’re around. It’s very friendly competition; they’re supportive of each other. If one of the students from the studio is out there competing, everyone else is at the table yelling and screaming. That’s the way we like it.

What do you do to relax?

Ben: Shalene tapes The Young and The Restless. And watches it every night at 11:30 when we get home.

Shalene: It’s only because he’s the one who got me hooked.

How did you get hooked on it?

Ben: I don’t know. I came back from an overseas trip with some stomach bug and I was home sick for about a week and a half. For some strange reason I started watching it then, and that was twelve years ago.

Shalene: We’re still watching it today. He watches it with me every night when we come home. We make dinner and watch The Young and The Restless.

Ben: Shalene can have a really, really long day at work, teaching 10 or 11 hours, and that’s no problem. That doesn’t bother her. She can break a nail and that’s mildly irritating. All kinds of bad things can happen and it’s okay. But if she comes home at night and realizes she didn’t put a tape in the VCR, and she has no recorded soap that day, I run for cover.

Shalene: It’s so nice because it’s a mindless show. It’s 45 minutes where I know I can be completely relaxed, not have to think, not have to use my brain.

Do you have any other hobbies?

Ben: Sleep!

Shalene: We do work really hard right now. Ben has been toying with golf in the last year and he really enjoys it. So he’s looking forward to a time when he’ll have a little more opportunity to play and I might join him. At first I thought it wasn’t something that…

Ben: It’s the competitive thing. She’s hit a few balls and she’s quite good, actually. If she thinks she can be better than me or faster than me, she will play!

Shalene: If it’s something that’s going to take time, then it’s something that we’ll want to do together. Most of our endeavors usually go that route, so if he’s interested, I’ll probably get interested as well. Other than that, we like to travel and we’d like to spend time together traveling. And we have two cats, a Burmese and a Tonkinese. Our two babies are Mika and Raphael. They are our children.

What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t dancing?

Ben: We talk all the time about what we would do if we stopped teaching, when our bodies won’t do what we’re doing anymore and we have to find something else. We think about what our options are. What can we do so that we can be together all day long like we are now?

Shalene: I can’t imagine not spending...

Ben: Most relationships survive because spouses aren’t in close proximity all day long. But we’ll have to find something so we can continue the same way we have been.

You don’t get tired of being together?

Ben: No.

Shalene: Never

Ben: And we are together all day long, every day.

Shalene: And look forward to it. Love it. Actually, the only time we ever argue is when we’re dancing, so…

Ben: But like I said, I’m very persuasive.

Does he always win?

Ben: No. No, don’t be fooled!

Shalene: I’m afraid I get my way more often! That’s just the female in me, maybe.

Ben: And I understand it’s my job to give in, once in a while.

Dance tip
Shalene: Every dancer goes through stages, sometimes you feel really confident in what you’re doing and other times you feel like you don’t know anything at all. I’ve found the one thing that’s made the biggest difference in our dancing, is when we didn’t worry about the marks, who else was on the floor, the room, the music, the temperature and whatever else. When we concentrate just on each other and just on the dancing, that’s when we dance our best. And that’s when we enjoy ourselves the most. Don’t let the other things bother you and get in the way of the reasons you dance. If you can do that you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience, and probably a much more successful career.

Ben: That kind of ties into what I want to talk about. I love participating in competitions… being in the ballroom, dancing with my students and dancing with Shalene. I love the whole environment at the competitions, and I would encourage newer students not to be intimidated and not to wait until you think you’re ready. You’re never going to feel prepared. If you wait until you think you’re prepared, you’re never going to go and you’re going to miss out on a lot of wonderful, wonderful things, and great experiences. Find a teacher that you trust and when that teacher says you’re ready, just go.

From the November/December 2001 Issue

All year for only $25
Call 877-33-NOTES or log on to


Active Member
OK, bringing this one back to top just because it's great story (article? whatever), and since they were recent topic of convo with the new baby. :) Of course, makes Shalene's response about not having kids a little amusing. :)
It is a very good and informative article but i just can't believe just how many hours a day they do, like Shalene can do like 9 or 10 hours a day and its just like wow thats a lot lol but thanks for posting this so we can see :)


Active Member
Welcome to DF, Kannaba. And yeah, theiir dedication and amount of work is amazing. But also certainly not unique, as a lot of teachers many of us go to every day are teaching 8-10 hours, and then often practicing another 1-3 hours (or more) every day with their own partners, or getting coachings, etc.

Dance Ads